LeBron James. Tom Brady. Serena Williams. Shalane Flanagan. You might have noticed that today's biggest sports stars have something in common: Instead of slowing down once they pass 30--traditionally the age at which elite athletes begin to decline--they, somehow, get better.
There are entire industries behind this longevity revolution. New testing services claim to pinpoint everything from which injuries athletes must guard against to what foods they should avoid. Sophisticated training methods condition muscles more efficiently while avoiding unwanted wear-and-tear. And a slew of new recovery technologies offer the promise of instant rejuvenation for bodies and minds pushed to the breaking point.
Many entrepreneurs are already experimenting with forms of body hacking. Why not take note of what the world's star athletes are doing? My new book, Play On: The New Science of Elite Performance at Any Age, details just how the pros do it--and what the rest of us can learn from the techniques they're employing, from the cutting-edge to the just plain out-there.
At Causenta Wellness in Scottsdale, Arizona, Thomas Incledon oversees extensive blood testing to detect food allergies or toxin exposures that could affect performance. After a career-best season at age 36, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo credited Incledon's dietary advice (which included: Stop eating blueberries).
Services like Athletigen, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, offer DNA analysis specifically for athletes. Founded by Jeremy Koenig, a collegiate sprinter turned scientist, Athletigen says its personalized training and nutrition recommendations help athletes perform better and avoid injuries.
Every off-season, NBA players flock to P3 in Santa Barbara, California, where Marcus Elliott uses force plates and 3-D motion capture to analyze their movements for signs of old injuries. Those compensation patterns can cause musculoskeletal problems and limit explosiveness.
San Francisco-based Halo Neuroscience released its first product in 2016, and it's already a must-have in pro and Olympic training centers. Developed by Daniel Chao, it's a headset that uses transcranial direct current stimulation--zapping the brain with electricity--to speed strength gains and learning skills.
Blood flow restriction training works by compressing veins that bring blood back to the heart during exercise, keeping it where it can trigger an enhanced muscle-building response. Kaatsu Global, led by former Olympic swim coach Steven Munatones, turned the work of sports scientist Yoshiaki Sato into a programmable device that can be used anywhere. Outside the sports world, it's popular among high-performers at Facebook and in the Navy SEALs.
Avoiding fatigue buildup is key to maximizing older competitors' performance. Catapult Sports, based in Melbourne, makes a wearable that monitors training loads and determines when athletes need to rest. It's marketed to pros--the Golden State Warriors use it--but a New York City rec league soccer team of venture capitalists paid $120,000 for a package of wearables and data analysis.
Cryotherapy, which uses extreme subzero temperatures to combat inflammation and muscle soreness, is everywhere, thanks in part to famous devotees like Floyd Mayweather and Tony Robbins. Since 2009, Jonas and Emilia Kuehne have been freezing athletes and celebrities at their Beverly Hills clinic, Cryohealthcare. Through a sister company, they sell home cryo chambers: $49,000 for a sit-in unit, $98,000 for a walk-in model.
To know when their bodies are ready to train again, many athletes (including soccer players on MLS's Seattle Sounders) use systems like those from the Helsinki-based Omegawave, which measure electrical activity in the heart and brain to gauge fatigue levels in the autonomic and central nervous systems.
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is controversial. Practitioners, like tennis champion Novak Djokovic, say sitting in a pressurized pod breathing concentrated oxygen helps them bounce back faster during grueling tournaments, and Joe Namath believes it healed his brain from the effects of multiple concussions. But studies suggest it doesn't do much, and some scientists believe it could even promote cancer.
Spend less, perform better
You don't have to drop thousands on blood tests and a cryo tank to achieve better physical energy and mental clarity. Here are a few no- or low-cost performance hacks that work as well for stressed executives as they do for the pros.
1. Periodize your performance.Whether you're ramping up for a product launch or a marathon, gradually increase workload volume and intensity over time, and build in downtime afterward to recover for the next big effort.
2. Eat for energy. Whatever your meeting schedule, never go more than two to three hours without getting some calories. Add protein, like almond butter, to a high-carbohydrate snack to avoid a sugar crash.
3. More sleep is better. Starting a company is a 24/7 job, but there's a reason elite older athletes like Roger Federer and Deena Kastor sleep 10 or more hours a day in a blackout-dark room with their cell phones shut off. If you can't get that much, improve sleep quality by aiming for the same bedtime every night.
4. Use positive self-talk. Clinical trials show endurance athletes who maintain an upbeat inner monologue run faster and longer as a result. When you need a shot of motivation, talk to yourself. (Just not too loudly.)